Fountain of Youth
Suzanne Gannon -- Interior Design, 4/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
firm: patrick ribes
It’s hard not to speculate what Christian Dior, haute couturier and innovative perfumer, would think on arriving at the Dior Institut at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, the art nouveau Paris landmark near which he opened a fashion house to serve wealthy ladies in 1946. The originator of the New Look was famously beauty-obsessed, creating his first fragrance, Miss Dior, in 1947 and designing not one but two packages for a 1955 lipstick—a glass obelisk for the dressing table and a silver case for the purse.
Would he have enlisted one of the spa’s aestheticians to manicure his cuticles, overtaxed from sketching thousands of feminine silhouettes? Perhaps he would have prevailed on a masseuse to administer a rejuvenating Or de Vie treatment, the spa’s $650 signature, plying his skin with an antioxidant-rich elixir of grape-seed extract from Bordeaux’s Château d’Yquem. If glamour alone were the criterion, he surely would have smiled.
Designed by the architecture firm of Patrick Ribes, the spa is buried underground, but the 5,200-square-foot facility still manages to shimmer softly in a palette of pink, white, and pearly gray. A mingling of textures embraces glistening mosaic tile and engraved mirror. Other walls are covered in padded faux leather or lacquered paneling, and creamy-white Thassos marble flooring is accented by beige limestone from Burgundy.
Most doors have an exquisite gold-leafed knob encased in a clear glass sphere, like a treasure in a snow globe. The initials CD appear in shiny stainless on doors or silver leaf on the reception desk. Louis XVI–style chairs go pedicured toe to pedicured toe with wall-mounted video screens showing Dior models on the runway. From an earlier era, charcoal sketches that Ribes excavated from the archives depict cinched waists, flared skirts, and petite chapeaus.
“Achieving a fluid, harmonious transition from the universe of the Plaza Athénée to the universe of the Dior Institut,” Ribes says, was one of his greatest challenges. Descending a silk-carpeted curved staircase from the hotel lobby to the spa, one gathers that something important is afoot. At the bottom, a vaulted gallery seems to stretch endlessly straight ahead as if to suggest that human beauty and its preservation are indeed lofty pursuits, entrusted to only the most specialized of experts in white lab coats. (Louis de Saint Michel, director of Dior’s skin-care unit, explains that the institute differs from a regular spa by performing proprietary antiaging techniques rather than merely facilitating relaxation.)
The vaulted gallery centers on a circular reflecting pool, its bottom displaying the Plaza Athénée logo in black and white mosaic tiles lit by fiber optics installed around the perimeter. Above the pool hangs a handblown pendant fixture that mimics a droplet of water—or perfume. Glued onto an adjacent glass wall, disks of magnifying glass pick up on the liquid theme.
Another significant test, Ribes continues, was “to create an impression of light” in the underground space. In the treatment rooms, LEDs cycle through yellows (for good moods in the morning), reds (for midday energy), and blues (for relaxation in the evening) in various levels of intensity. Fiber optics emulate a starry sky in the hammam. A soft glow emanates from nearly every cove and cornice.
Open to hotel guests and dermatologically inclined locals alike, the spa offers five treatment rooms, four for individuals and one for couples. A gracious lounge, right outside, features plump white chaise lounges and Eero Saarinen side tables. Vitrines display cosmetics and skin-care products like precious gems.
Asked what he thinks of the finished project, which took 15 months, Ribes answers, “As a perfectionist, I always view my work with a critical eye.” Sans crow’s-feet after a few visits.
Photography by Eric Laignel.
From Front: Leucos: Pendant Fixture (Pool Area). Delta Associés Diffusion: Custom Runner Stairwell). Knoll: Tables (Lounge). Targetti: Sconces. Élitis: Chaise Upholstery. Alape: Sink (Hammam). Nordique France: Sink Fittings, Tile. Verreries De Bréhat: Custom Doorknob. Throughout: Ildei: Tile. Hdeco: Paint. Masson Electricité: Lighting Consultant. Agencement Paul Champs: Woodwork. Claret Escalier Menuiserie Agencement Décor: Woodwork, Glasswork, Steelwork. Sofrastyl: Plasterwork. Demeter Gestion Technique: General Contractor.